Council recommends changes to city's term limits

July 13, 2010 4:51:57 PM PDT
There's a push to change the term limits for Houston city council members. Those who support the change say it's not just about saving money. It's about improving services to the communities. You will still vote for your council members and mayor, but voter Nicole Smith says she would like to see some more knowledgeable politicians.

"Right now, I think it's too short, like what changes can you make in two years?" she asked.

The city is not getting rid of term limits, but a citizen commission is recommending they be tweaked. Currently, city politicians can run for office every two years for up to three terms, serving a maximum of six years.

The proposal would change elections to every four years, with a maximum of two terms for a total of eight years.

"I think the longer terms do help because I think it makes things more effective in terms of giving a little more time to get in and work on projects," said Houston Councilmember Ed Gonzalez.

"I'm not a big fan of three two-year terms, because the first term you're in office, you're trying to figure out how this thing works," said KTRK Political Consultant Dr. Richard Murray. "Then in the second term, you realize you're not going to be there very long and you're looking for something else to run for. That's not good for public service."

Dr. Murray says some newly elected officials, including the mayor, could benefit during the transition, with the possibility of serving up to 10 years. But first, the referendum must get voters' approval this November. And that's a tall order.

"I think it's an underdog going in," said Dr. Murray. "But if there's an educational campaign that conditions people that you're still going to have term limits, you're not going to have people staying forever, they might be able to pass it."

For voters like Smith, she doesn't mind if council members get a bit more time in office, as long as they don't stay there forever.

"I do agree with term limits, but just a little bit longer to really make a difference," she said.

If council puts this in front of voters, you can expect a lot of controversy between now and the November elections.

Dr. Murray writes about the term limits in his political blog here.


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